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Lonely Planet Writer

10 alternative theme parks for families: move aside Mickey

A visit to a theme park is often a thrilling highlight of a child’s early experiences. Stepping into a fantasy world, the suspension of day-to-day reality – these colourful worlds are all about having fun together as a family, doing something out of the ordinary, bonding and creating happy memories.

Disney's theme parks enduring popularity and nostalgia make them a must-visit on many families’ wishlists. However, if the idea of Disney leaves you dizzy or you’ve simply had your fill of Mickey and the Magic Kingdom, we’ve got 10 alternative theme parks for you to try instead.

Remember that whether it’s Disney or another park, theme parks are expensive days out and get very busy. Go early, book ahead and use their apps to avoid queues and get the best deals.

Disney alternatives - Colourful Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen. A red rollercoaster twists over the park's lake which has small green and red boats floating on it
Colourful Tivoli Gardens © Anastasia Pelikh / Shutterstock

Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen, Denmark

Illuminated with fairy-lights at night, stylish Tivoli is a magical place to explore once the sun has gone down (the gardens famously inspired one Mr Walt Disney). It’s also a fun theme park by day with activities for all the (multi-generational) family. There’s an elegant Ferris wheel, gentle dragon boats and a traditional carousel for those taking it easy; for those looking to get their blood pumping, there's the world’s second-oldest wooden roller coaster, and the chance to be propelled to 2.5 g-force. Check ahead to make sure you don’t miss the fireworks or events at the concert hall.

Disney alternatives - The Baron 1898 dive coaster at Efteling theme park, the Netherlands. The huge green-blue metal structure dives below a lake.
Are you brave enough for the Baron 1898 dive coaster? © Julia700702 / Shutterstock

Efteling, Noord Brabant, Netherlands

Based around storytelling, this charming park is set in a forested landscape and boasts imaginative attractions such as talking trees, fantasy palaces and water rides through forbidden cities. This is a world of elves, trolls and unicorns, but you can still raise your heart rate with the famous Baron 1898 dive coaster and De Vliegende Hollander water coaster. When everyone needs to calm down, there are pretty gardens to be explored, gentle train rides to be taken and boats to laze around in.

Disney alternatives - Knotts Berry Farm decked out for Halloween with pumpkins engulfing the entrance gates
Knotts Berry Farm decked out for Halloween © Juan Camilo Bernal / Shutterstock

Knotts Berry Farm, California, USA

Another long-established park, Knott's Berry Farm opened in 1941 when Mr Knott built an imitation ghost town to keep the diners who were enjoying his wife’s fried chicken entertained. The spooky element remains with shows in ‘Ghost Town’, the wooden GhostRider roller coaster and the park’s recreation as Knott's Scary Farm for Halloween. There’s an Old West theme throughout with a blacksmith on Main Street, bandits on the narrow gauge train and a western stunt show. There are also plenty of rides for adrenaline-junkies, Camp Snoopy for younger children and the Knott's Soak City Water Park.

Disney alternatives - Blackpool Pleasure Beach pier. The huge ferris wheel sticks up into a clear blue sky as a seagull flies by.
Blackpool pier comes with a healthy dose of old-timey nostalgia © Rolf E. Staerk / Shutterstock

Blackpool Pleasure Beach, England   

This iconic park is a 16-hectare collection of more than 145 rides and is England’s most popular theme park. You’ll find a mix of classic older rides such as the Grand National, and sleek new thrills like Icon, the UK’s first double launch roller coaster. Smaller children will enjoy Nickelodeon Land, Wallace & Gromit’s Thrill-O-Matic and the historic Flying Machines. This is a classic theme park: there’s plenty of additional entertainment on offer but, really, come for the rides. And from September to November each year, stay for Blackpool’s famous seafront illuminations.

Disney alternatives - Mr Moon, the gatekeeper to a world of adventure at Luna Park. A huge pale face framed by skyscrapers is the entrance to Luna Park - with visitors entering through its mouth
Mr Moon, the gatekeeper to a world of adventure at Luna Park © Aleksandar Todorovic / Shutterstock

Luna Park, Melbourne, Australia

Covering a relatively small site but with a photogenic location right next to the beach, Luna Park has been keeping folks entertained since 1912. It boasts the oldest wooden roller coaster in the world and has a nostalgic old-timey feel. Enter through Mr Moon’s gaping mouth and start gently with a ride on a beautiful hand-painted carousel and a spin round the park on colourful Betty Choo Choo. Then take it up a notch with some traditional fairground rides such as the dodgems or a ghost train before leaving your stomach behind on the Coney Drop or Pharaoh’s Curse.

Disney alternatives - A viking re-enactment show at Puy du Fou shows a viking boat bursting into flames next to a wooden tower
Travel back into time to a Viking siege at Puy du Fou © Pierre-Yves HOGUET / Shutterstock

Puy du Fou, South West France

Puy du Fou is the theme park that’s not actually a theme park, but rather an incredible historical experience set in rural France. Around the park you will find reconstructions of different historical eras, including ancient Rome, a medieval city and 18th-century village. And if you really want to step back in time you can stay overnight in one of five latter-day locales.

The highlight, is the spectacular shows which run throughout the day and use a huge number of actors, animals and award-winning pyrotechnics to bring significant events in France’s history to life. Audio guides translate into English, but the length and complexity of the shows means they are more suitable for children aged eight and over.

Disney alternatives - The magnificent model airport at LEGOLAND® Dubai
The magnificent model airport at LEGOLAND® Dubai © yykkaa / Shutterstock

LEGOLAND®, Dubai

Aimed at children under 12, this park stays true to the successful formula of LEGOLANDS® across the world. It is a brightly-coloured theme park with 40 rides and attractions across six themed areas. Very little explorers will love the DUPLO® Valley, submarine adventure and the chance to fly their own planes at the City Airport. Older kids will love the driving school, Dragon roller coaster and Power Tower ‘free-fall’ ride. The famous LEGO® Miniland fascinates kids and adults alike with miniature LEGO® versions of Dubai’s landmarks and the chance to create your own city skyline from bricks. When you need to cool off there’s a separate LEGO®-themed water park next door.

Disney alternatives - Dreamworld's WhiteWater World has a huge sea creature overseeing the 8 waterslides coming out of its mouth
Dreamworld's WhiteWater World © ChameleonsEye / Shutterstock

Dreamworld, Gold Coast, Australia

The Gold Coast's theme parks all cater for kids, but if you’re entertaining the under-fives and you’re happy to embrace the world of branding for a day, Dreamworld is a good option. Littlies can ride the Big Red Car in Wiggles World and meet the iconic Bananas in Pyjamas at ABC Kids World. Older kids will dig the DreamWorks Experience with rides and shows based around Kung Fu Panda, Madagascar and Shrek. There’s also a zoo within the park plus daily wildlife and cultural presentations and your ticket gives you entrance to the WhiteWater World next door.

Disney alternatives - Inside Hershey's Chocolate World. Bottles of chocolate sauce line the walls and displays
Embrace your love of chocolate at Hershey's Chocolate World © Helen89 / Shutterstock

Hersheypark, Pennsylvania, USA

Chocolate and roller coasters might not seem like the best combination, but it certainly works for Hersheypark. There are over 70 attractions, including a water park and a zoo (included in the cost of your ticket) and 14 coasters and 20 rides for smaller kids. But what you really need to do, obviously, is visit Hershey’s Chocolate World where you can design your own chocolate bar, taste some chocolate (of course!) and tour a mock factory. Time your visit for summer 2020 and the sugar rush will be complete with the opening of Hershey’s Chocolate Town, billed as ‘where fun meets chocolate’.

Disney alternatives - The dynamic 3D Transformers Ride at Universal Studios, Singapore. The character Bumblebee crouches above the entrance to the ride
The dynamic 3D Transformers –The Ride at Universal Studios, Singapore © Hatchapong Palurtchaivong / Shutterstock

Universal Studios, Sentosa Island, Singapore

Although missing the Wizarding World of Harry Potter of its Orlando counterpart, this Universal Studios still packs a punch on the global theme park stage. Everything is packaged around fantasy-world themes and is as glossy and high-tech as they come. Young ones can take a ride with the cast of Madagascar or join the Sesame Street Spaghetti Space Chase; while tweens and teens can choose their side, Human or Cylon, on the world’s tallest duelling roller coaster or experience a next-generation 3D thrill on the park's Transformers – The Ride.

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